By: Sam Burnham
If you're like me, you're pretty frustrated with the level of discourse being used in the Republican presidential debates. When we have men on stage insulting each other's appearance, engaging in coarse joking, and even challenging and defending the size of genitalia, there are issues to address. I would expect this from young boys vying for dominance in middle school gym class. But these men are running for election to the role of leader of the free world.
What troubles me is that we are shocked, or at least claim to be, but this parliament of magpies continues to draw voters to the booths. We are not offended enough. Part of that is due to the fact people have heavily entrenched loyalties to the Republican Party or even to a specific candidate. Part of it is due to the fact what is going on on that stage really doesn't offend the audience as much as they say. We've become desensitized to crude and raucous discourse in all the other areas of our entertainment and we've reduced politics to nothing more than that, entertainment.
Our political parties are our teams. Our candidates are the players. We're cheering them on much like we'd cheer on the Bulldogs or the Braves. We want to win, have a party to celebrate victory, and then move on with our lives while looking forward to next season. And that is how we are trying to maintain a republic while complaining that it doesn't work. Do you really wonder how Congress, 535 members chosen by free and open elections, has a favorable rating of less than 20%. Less than 1 in 5 people are satisfied with a group of people, many of whom have been in their roles for 30+ years, 435 of whom can be fired every two years by a simple majority of their district. Because they know how to entertain us. They lie to us, they berate their opponents and we send them back.
hosting the late Christopher Hitchens and John O'Sullivan in a discussion of a book by Hitchens. There is disagreement. Hitchens is diametrically opposite from Buckley and O'Sullivan, politically, religiously, and philosophically speaking. But I include this for exactly that reason. If we can look at these men who had substantial influence on political thought in our nation, even thought two were British, and consider how different their views were and still consider the way in which they spend 26 minutes of discussion. There's no name calling or insults. The men discuss the issues they make points on each side that would provoke thoughts in any onlooker who wished to form an opinion based on the information provided in the discussion.
Why can't men seeking the nomination of the same party do the same?
I'd argue that this video comes from an era before WWE, UFC, and so-called reality television programming had as strong of an influence on the American psyche. Whereas 20 years ago such talk was commonplace on Monday Night Raw or Jerry Springer, it wasn't commonplace in elections.
This leads me to believe that we don't have a problem vetting our candidates as they are just giving the audience what they want. What we need is a more thorough vetting process for the electorate. I'm starting to believe that the masses just can't be trusted with the responsibility of voting. If the electorate has higher expectations for discourse, perhaps the candidates will focus on the issues and leave the penile innuendo at home.
I'll close with one more thought. There were days when gentlemen would not tolerate such discourse. A public insult was subject to the injured party's demand for satisfaction. With sabers, rapiers, or pistols gentlemen dealt with the issues. It does sound savage to our modern ears but, if we have evolved as a society from that time, what have we evolved to? Are we better off with politicians bound by honor and consequence or with having debates that we cannot allow our younger children to watch and learn from?
It's worth a thought.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire